Gary Michuta interviews the ever-interesting Rod Bennett on his new and timely book Bad Shepherds:
One of the weirdly consoling things about being Catholic is that we have lots of experience of lousy shepherds. Indeed, even our very best shepherds have had their spectacular failures, starting with Peter and the gutless apostles. And, like Judas, not all have been well-meaning failures. Some have been right SOBs. The Church, like all human things, has had periods of sin and dissolution and periods of quite spectacular reform. This is part of believing in the Incarnation: that God will allow us the freedom to sin–even mortally–but that he will somehow also call out the best in us and raise up real saints out of this weak flesh and blood.
I’ve never been one of those people who wring their hands and fantasize about a Golden Age or utter the ridiculous lament, “Our bishops have lost their moral authority!” Our bishops lost their “moral authority” in the Garden of Gethsemane and never got it back. Part of the point of the Passion is that nobody has any moral authority except the One hanging on the Cross. When, raised from death, he asked Peter three times if he loved him, the point was not “Awesome job!” but “I forgive you. I give you your life back with mercy and I expect you, as the failure you are, to always remember that you are not to lord your ‘moral authority’ over anybody but to treat them with the mercy I am giving you today.”Bishops are like math teachers, not moral exemplars. Some of them, by the grace of God, also turn out to be saints (and wield thereby a certain ‘moral authority’ because they are good men). But mostly what they do is pass along a set of truths they neither invented nor can change. They pass along a story just as math teachers pass along a set of facts about how 2+2=4. If they do their sums wrong or cheat on their taxes, they shall be judged by the Headmaster. But their failure does not in the slightest falsify what they are passing along.
So while I have been appalled by the sin and stupidity of bad shepherds, I have never for a moment found that a reason not to trust Jesus Christ. And insofar as my own competence in the Tradition permits me to check the work of a given shepherd, I don’t see why I need to simply reject them en masse as so many Catholics who announce themselves “fed up with it all” do. Tantrums are not reform.
The Church will heal again, as she has in the past, by fidelity to Jesus and his gospel and through the Same Old Thing: love of God, love of neighbor, the teaching of the apostles, creative orthodoxy, and stubbornly self-sacrificial orthopraxy that puts first the least of these (not the service of a bureaucratic machine).